Calls for ‘greater clarity’ on mechanical grading suspension in 2 plants

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is being called on to provide “greater clarity” on the suspension of mechanical grading in two meat processing plants.

Des Morrison, the livestock committee chairperson of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), argued that farmers would be “perturbed” by the department’s confirmation of these two incidents, which have seen the factories in question revert to manual grading.

Morrison said that, given what he called “an absence” of any more detail since the confirmation, “certain questions needed to be asked”.

“We do not think that a kind of airy announcement that mechanical grading has been suspended in two factories is in any way sufficient,” he insisted.

What factories were involved? What degree of error was discovered upon inspection of the mechanical grading? How long was it happening for? How many animals were affected on grading and fat score and, most importantly, did any farmers lose their ‘in-spec’ bonus? If so, how many?

“It’s vital to ascertain that last point, because the in-spec bonus is such an important element of the overall price,” Morrison highlighted.

“There is a vague tone to the revelations that would greatly irritate farmers who suspect – with much justification – that there was a tolerance extended to grading failures on the part of the factories that was conspicuously not extended to farmers accused of failing to comply [with regulations],” the ICMSA livestock chair concluded.

Department confirmation

Despite these suspensions of mechanical grading in two factories, no factory has been fined for non-compliance in carcass presentation, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary, confirmed recently.

The new minister was responding to two questions on the matter from independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Denis Naughten, who asked for the number of instances of non-compliance and the number of times mechanical grading was suspended in 2019 and so far in 2020.

It was highlighted that mechanical grading was suspended six times last year.

In his response, Minister Calleary said: “To date, in 2020, officers from the Carcass Classification Division of my department have conducted over 260 inspections across 32 factories (mechanical and manual grading plants) and over 23,600 carcasses were inspected.”